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Receiving a Single Justice Procedure Notice: why a ticket to speedy justice can have long-lasting consequences

The Single Justice Procedure was introduced by the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 and since the Covid 19 pandemic has seen a considerable rise in its use, as the world becomes more accustomed to doing business remotely rather than face to face.

However, in recent months, the procedure has come under increasing scrutiny by the media and last month a number of MPs wrote to the Justice Secretary asking for it to be reviewed. The Lady Chief Justice has since promised to investigate the workings of the system.

What is the Single Justice Procedure?

In a nutshell, the Single Justice Procedure allows for a Court to deal with prosecutions for, on the face of it, ‘low level’ criminal offences administratively, and thereby not require a hearing where a prosecuting lawyer and  defendant are required to attend. Summary only (i.e. offences that can only be dealt with in the Magistrates’ Court) non-imprisonable offences are the only matters that can be dealt with the Single Justice Procedure.

Instead of a bench of three magistrates or a District Judge deciding on a case in a public hearing, the procedure allows for a single magistrate to deal with the matter in private.

Significantly, it is the prosecuting agency which decides whether a case should be diverted through the Single Justice Procedure, although the single magistrate does have the power refer the matter to a hearing in front of a Bench.  The defendant also has the right to elect a full hearing.

The Single Justice Procedure Notice

A Single Justice Procedure Notice arriving in the post is usually the first time a defendant will be aware of the pending court case.

The Notice is usually attached to a bundle of documents containing the charge, a statement setting out the facts and a form for the defendant to complete and return within 21 days confirming the plea they wish to enter and whether they wish for the matter to be listed in open court for a full hearing.

The form requires the defendant to provide financial information if there is to be a guilty plea and any “mitigation” he wishes for the Court to consider. If the defendant wishes to plead not guilty, the form requires that details of the defence are provided and the names of any proposed defence witnesses that are to be called to give evidence.

Criticisms of the Single Justice Procedure

There is considerable criticism of the Single Justice Procedure, and indeed this is what prompted the calls for system to be reviewed.

One obvious criticism is that a case is decided by a single magistrate rather than a bench of three and so the notion of fairness is diluted. Also, given the case is presented on paper only, the full details of a defendant’s case may not be made known to the Court.

Others have observed that frequently defendants respond to the Notice without taking legal advice thereby heightening the risk of unjust outcomes. For example, during the pandemic many excessive fines for breaching Covid restrictions were administered in this way.

Some MPs have criticised the system on the grounds that the defendant’s response is sent directly back to the Court and prosecutors do not often review mitigation put forward by the defendant. There have been reported examples where a defendant has extremely strong mitigation and if this had been reviewed by the prosecutor, the case may have been discontinued or the defendant offered an out of court disposal.  The resulting conviction can have potentially lifelong consequences in certain instances.

Advantages of the Single Justice Procedure

The principal benefit of the system is that it speeds up the justice process. By avoiding taking up valuable court time that is always in short supply, cases can be decided much more quickly and defendants will know outcomes sooner.

The additional benefit is that the procedure avoids the need for a defendant to attend court, potentially requiring them to take time off work.


People often mistakenly think that if there is an option for the matter to be processed without the need for them to attend Court the allegation they face, and the potential consequences, cannot be particularly serious.

The Single Justice Procedure is frequently used for motoring offences and many of these cases would be considered ‘low level’. However, the least serious motoring offences can be dealt with by out of court disposals, such as completing a Speed Awareness Course or the offender being made a Conditional Offer of a set number of penalty points and a fine. The fact that the matter is being progressed through court inevitably means it is more serious: the potential penalty is considerably more severe, and a disqualification from driving can in some instances become a greater risk.

It is therefore also advisable to carefully consider any response to a Single Justice Procedure Notice and in most instances it is extremely beneficial to take legal advice.

There may be times when the prosecution should be contacted directly to ask for a review of the prosecution if there are persuasive mitigating circumstances. Alternatively, even when a guilty plea will be entered, there are often reasons why it would be beneficial to the defendant for the case to be heard in open court with a full bench of magistrates or a District Judge, rather than being dealt with administratively.

Above all, even if the case is to be decided administratively, the way the Single Justice Procedure Notice form is completed, such as the way mitigation is presented in the case of a guilty plea, can have a significant impact on the eventual outcome of the case.


Send us an emailcomplete our online enquiry form or call us on 020 3944 6225 to find out how our criminal defence solicitors can help if you are being investigated or prosecuted for an alleged motoring offence. 


Legal Disclaimer

Articles are intended as an introduction to the topic and do not constitute legal advice.